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With a combination of history and mystery unfolding when the Buffalo Public Schools kick off their Section VI football experience, Week One of this season was already going to be momentous.

But take a look at the schedule of opening weekend, and the hits keep coming like gang-tacklers on a ball carrier.

There are two tremendous league rivalry matchups which have decided many a regular season at 7:30 p.m. Friday -- Lancaster visits Orchard Park in AA North and Lackawanna heads to East Aurora in B South.

The lineup also includes Clarence opening under its new lights at 7:30 Friday with a stern test in Iroquois. Rivals meet when Cleveland Hill plays Maryvale at 7, and the second-longest interstate rivalry in the country takes place when Olean heads to Bradford (Pa.) at 7 (the teams have met 112 times dating back to 1893).

On Saturday, the Monsignor Martin schedule opens with a nice matchup of its defending champions -- League A winner Cardinal O'Hara is at League AA champ Canisius at 2.

Monsignor Martin teams again will test themselves against top out-of-town opponents, starting with two big ones in Week One.

St. Joe's plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Rochester's Aquinas, the four-time defending Section V Class A champion which will play two other Monsignor Martin teams and has had its season ended the last two years by Sweet Home in the Far West Regionals.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, St. Francis is at Ty Cobb Stadium to play host Union-Endicott, which has won four Section IV (Binghamton area) Class AA titles in the last five years.

Four defending state champions get their seasons going as well. North Tonawanda (AA) hosts Kenmore West, Sweet Home (A) hosts Kenmore East, Southwestern (C) plays at Falconer and Randolph (D) hosts Pine Valley.

Here's a rundown of other highlight games (for an expanded selection of the top games involving city teams, see Page E3).

*Week Two: Friday night has Burgard at Depew and Jamestown at Lancaster, while Saturday is a busy one headlined with Williamsville South at Grand Island -- this year it's not a league game, but it's a great matchup which made for two entertaining, down-to-the-wire battles last season. There's also NT at Lockport, East Aurora at Eden and a rare local Saturday night game as Orchard Park plays at Clarence.

*Week Three: Check out the Williamsville schools in Thursday night games. Watch league races take shape with Niagara Falls at North Tonawanda, Clarence at Lancaster and Canisius at Bishop Timon-St. Jude while top nonleague battles have Southwestern at East Aurora, Aquinas at St. Francis and Frontier at Hamburg.

*Week Four: Possibly the game of the year has North Tonawanda meeting Riverside at All-High on Friday night. On Saturday, pick between top Catholic games St. Francis at St. Joe's, Cathedral Prep (Pa.) at Canisius and Bishop Timon-St. Jude at Cardinal O'Hara.

*Week Five: A loaded weekend. Take your pick on Friday night from Orchard Park at Riverside, Williamsville South at Iroquois, Cheektowaga at Depew and South Park at Bishop Timon-St. Jude. On Saturday it's Monsignor Martin battles big (Canisius at St. Joe's) and small (Cardinal O'Hara at St. Mary's).

*Week Six: The major matchups include Saturday afternoon treats of Sweet Home at Grand Island and Aquinas at Canisius. Rivalry games are a week earlier this season in West Seneca and Ken-Ton, while a new rivalry is stoked as former longtime Albion coach Dick Diminuco returns to visit the Purple Eagles -- as the second-year coach of Alden.

*Week Seven: Traditional rivalry week matchups of the T-NT game, Depew at Lancaster and Dunkirk at Fredonia are joined by possibly the final meeting of rivals Grover Cleveland and Lafayette at All High.

*Week Eight: The Section VI playoffs begin while St. Joe's (at Stuebenville) and Canisius (at Walsh Jesuit) head to Ohio.

*Week Nine: While Section VI heads into its semifinals, a major Monsignor Martin showdown has St. Francis at Canisius (Oct. 30).

*Week 10: Due to complications regarding the Buffalo Bills' Nov. 7 game (which is in Toronto), the Section VI finals are scheduled for weeknights -- Thursday and Friday at The Ralph. The Monsignor Martin semifinals are Saturday.

*Week 11: The Monsignor Martin championships are at The Ralph on Thursday, Nov. 11. The weekend is another major sign of the Buffalo Public Schools joining Section VI -- the Far West Regionals will be held at All High Stadium on Nov. 12-13.

*Weeks 12 and 13: The state semifinals are at downtown Rochester's Marina Auto Stadium for the third straight year (Nov. 19-20) with the state finals in their traditional spot the weekend after Thanksgiving at Syracuse's Carrier Dome (Nov. 26 and 28).

>11 new coaches in WNY

Two days into practice and Roy-Hart was without a coach. Instead of coaching the Rams, first-year coach Don Baker found himself needing emergency triple bypass heart surgery at Gates Circle Hospital in downtown Buffalo.

It was the latest setback for Roy-Hart football that had its program cut from the school budget in late May. The Roy-Hart Booster Club helped reinstate the program by making a $20,000 donation.

The Roy-Hart School District appointed Dick Westcott as interim head coach while Baker, who made an appearance at practice recently, recovers. Baker, who also coaches the Rams in girls basketball and baseball, replaced Chris Smith.

Chuck Kowalski, the QB on Lackawanna's state championship teams in 1997 and 1998, takes over as head coach at Lake Shore for his old coach for the Steelers, Bill Moore.

Other coaching changes:

Mike Dean, Akron (replaces Chris Ginestre); Tim Mylinski, Frontier (replaces Rich Gray); Chris McDuffie, Williamsville East (replaces Joe Shifflet); Rob Gross, Tonawanda (replaces Jason Beckman); John Sopko, Springville (replaces Joe Marvin); Chad Lyter, Allegany-Limestone (replaces Paul Furlong); Nick Spitzer, Cassadaga Valley (replaces Mark Petersen); Dennis Gilbert, St. Joe's (replaces Bob O'Connor); Dave Hersey, St. Mary's (replaces John Kling).

Petersen and Gray took over as athletic directors at their respective schools.

>Divisional switches

Aside from the Harvard Cup merging into Section VI, here are other divisional alignment changes:

AA: Riverside and Hutch-Tech join the North, which lost Niagara-Wheatfield when it dropped down to A, while Bennett joins the South.

A: Class A goes from one huge 11-team division to two seven-team groups. McKinley joins the North, along with Niagara-Wheatfield, while Lafayette is in the South.

B: Two divisions have expanded to three. Former C schools Eden (to B South), Akron and JFK (to B Central) moved up and Burgard, East and South Park moved in (all to the Central).

C: The North lost the aforementioned three teams to B and welcomes newcomer Grover Cleveland.

D: West Valley's program merged with Ellicottville's while Brocton's program returned after a year off.

>Returning All-Staters

*CLASS AA: 2nd team-RB Joe Montesanti (North Tonawanda), 5-LB Travis Charsley (North Tonawanda).

*CLASS A: 1-OE Phil Stasiak (Wmsv. South), 2-QB Joe Licata (Wmsv. South), 2-DL Mikal Coleman (Sweet Home), 4-QB Travis Eman (Canisius), 4-RB Ralph Neasman (Sweet Home).

*CLASS B: 2-AP Anthony Emmanuele (Depew), 3-RB Dakota Peel (Alden), 4-QB Tyler Stoldt (Alden), 4-RB Vinnie Bomasuto (Dunkirk).

*CLASS C: 2-OL Jake Currie (Southwestern), 4-RB John Mistretta (Southwestern).

*CLASS D: 1-OL Ben Fluent (Randolph), 3-RB Zach Williams (Silver Creek), 3-LB Jordan Spehar (Portville).

>Preseason picks

The News' polls will begin Tuesday. Here's a preseason list from The News, which has one vote on each poll:

Large schools: 1. Sweet Home; 2. North Tonawanda; 3. Orchard Park; 4. Grand Island; 5. Williamsville South; 6. Canisius; 7. Lancaster; 8. St. Joe's; 9. Iroquois; 10. Riverside.

Small schools: 1. Southwestern; 2. Randolph; 3. Cheektowaga; 4. Alden; 5. Depew; 6. East Aurora; 7. Lackawanna; 8. Burgard; 9. Eden; 10. Cardinal O'Hara.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com and mmonnin@buffnews.com